Irish Album of the Year - From NI?

Cashier No.9, And So I Watch You From Afar and The Japanese Popstars nominated for Music Choice Prize

It’s a new year, and it wouldn’t be complete without something for Ireland’s musical community to get its collective knickers in a twist about.

Thankfully, the Choice Music Prize nominations have been announced, and the stage is set for a few months of arguing and bickering before the veil is lifted in a lavish ceremony on March 8 in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.

Bangor’s Two Door Cinema Club surprised many last year by scooping the award, and this year finds the north of Ireland well catered for with Carryduff’s Cashier No.9, And So I Watch You From Afar representing the north coast, and Derry~Londonderry’s The Japanese Popstars all nominated.

All three acts have released strong albums in 2011, but will it be enough to snare the 10,000 euro prize money?

The Japanese Popstars’ Controlling Your Allegiance (EMI) hasn’t had an easy ride with the critics, many feeling that the sheer amount of high profile guest stars featured on the album detracted from the overall sound and left the threesome at the helm as anonymous backing musicians.

However, the album has found a strong fanbase in Ireland, and with spectacular star turns from the likes of The Cure’s Robert Smith, James Vincent McMorrow, and Lisa Hannigan (whose own album, Passenger, is already being tipped for the top by the Irish Times), it’s still a strong contender to win the prize.

To The Death of Fun (Bella Union) is an album that has firmly established Carryduff’s Cashier No.9 as a favourite on national radio, and out of the three Northern Irish albums nominated, it would seem likely that they stand the strongest chance of winning.

Lush production courtesy of David Holmes, instantly hummable melodies, wry lyrics – it has it all. Out of all the albums to make the grade this year, northern or otherwise, Cashier have the highest profile, and that can make all the difference when the votes are cast.

However, only a fool would write off north coast instrumentalists And So I Watch You From Afar, whose Gangs (Richter Collective) emerged last year as a provocative tour de force, cementing their reputation as one of the most exciting bands to come out of Ireland in the last ten years.

More focused than their debut, Gangs doesn’t need lyrics to shout out its message loud and clear. 'We are here, and we will not be ignored!' is what ASIWYFA seem to be saying. It’s been a difficult year for the band, who lost a key member in Tony Wright towards the end of the year. Victory could be a great way to start a new chapter.

Amongst the rest of the contenders, Jape, aka Richie Egan, has previous form, his Ritual having won the competition in 2008, but whether his most recent effort, Ocean of Frequency (Music is for Losers) can repeat the trick, remains to be seen.

Bell X1’s Bloodless Coup (Belly Up Records) is a career high for the band, but their understated brand of sweeping melancholia can take a while to work its magic, perhaps not providing the immediate thrill that tends to make the grade at such awards.

All in all, the ten artists represented on the list have everything to play for, and the end result is sure to be controversial, whatever the outcome.

The competition still can’t avoid the issue of how small the music industry in Ireland is: lets just say, there wasn't much to choose from. But the bickering, arguing, and informed debate is part of what makes this so fun. So, place your bets and get ready to start mouthing off. See you at the finish line.